New Orleans residents question Road Home Program expenditures

By Alice Thomas-Tisdale

Jackson Advocate Publisher

Black residents in New Orleans are calling for a full investigation of the Road Home Program. “Congress through HUD appropriated billions of dollars for the rebuilding of the community, however it never reached the neediest residents,” says Carl Galmon, President, Louisiana Committee Against Apartheid. “It appears that there is a vast amount of discrimination that has taken place since the onset of Hurricane Katrina. African Americans have been systematically excluded from a fair and equitable share of HUD funds,” he said. In all, $49 billion has been appropriated to New Orleans since Hurricane Katrina devastated the area almost seven years ago. The Road Home Grant Program provided $13.4 billion to help New Orleans homeowners. Currently, $172 million in Road Home money has not been distributed because HUD has not released the funds to the state. The four hardest hit areas of New Orleans by Hurricane Katrina on August 29, 2005 were: The Lower Ninth Ward, Desire Florida, Gentilly, and East New Orleans, which are over 95 percent African American. “Very little has been done to improve the housing stock and streets since Katrina,” Galmon said. “We want our homes and properties restored and brought up to code from the damages that occurred after Hurricane Katrina. Every homeowner or landlord deserves the right and authority

o build with his/her choice of contractors. Based on our investigation, there has been rampant fraud, racial discrimination, misappropriation of federal funds, and a master Ponzi scheme to take Katrina victims’ homes,” he said. According to Pat Forbes, the director of the state’s Office of Community Development, $10 billion of the allocated $13.4 billion in disaster assistance was spent on housing program, but notes the program is not intended to be solely for housing. “There’s a breakdown of funds between housing, infrastructure and economic development.” Plans to spend $75 million on improvements to the Mercedes-Benz Superdome have also come under scrutiny. The funds were earmarked for soft-second mortgages,which are loans for first-time homeowners that can be forgiven if the resident stays in the house for a set amount of time. “If it comes down to sending money to the Superdome or putting people back into their homes, that’s an easy call to me,” said Sen. Edwin Murray of New Orleans.